Reading Gladiators™ : a practical model

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Book clubs are increasingly popular in schools, not only to maintain an engagement in reading and create a culture of reading outside the classroom, but also to support children who may have missed out on precious reading time and access to high quality books throughout the pandemic.

All book clubs offer new titles and a fun environment for children to explore new books together. However, a book club can be so much more than that and with careful attention to book selection, cognisance of facilitating high-quality dialogue and the opportunity for creative and meaningful response, a book club can have a significant impact, not only on the attendees but on the whole school reading culture within and outside the classroom.

Reading Gladiators

Just Imagine has an established (est 2014) and award-winning book club model that we strongly believe has the potential to impact reading in your school. The main objectives of Reading Gladiators™ are:

●       to enable high quality discussion

●       to facilitate creative response

●       to develop reading for pleasure

●       to widen reading repertoires

It is important to create the right atmosphere and establish how the group will work. Subscribers to Reading Gladiators™ have access to a ‘how to run your group’ guide with details of the specific purpose of running the book club in a particular year group (useful for evidencing) and lots of practical suggestions from ‘where to hold group sessions’ to ‘types of questioning’.

Each set of book specific guidance notes includes an introduction to the author, illustrator where relevant and a brief summary of the story. The majority of the reading is done at home. A guide to how many pages or chapters to read each week is provided to help group leaders plan ahead.

The introductory week begins with thinking about the children’s prior knowledge and orientating them towards the setting or theme of the story by way of photographs and key facts. Subsequently the group might look at the front cover of the book and discuss initial responses and predictions. Often chapter one or a first reading of a picture book takes place in order to identify the narrative voice and set the tone for the book.

Here is an example of the guidance notes provided with the annual subscription for a picturebook. The inclusion of picturebooks in the Reading Gladiators programme serve a number of purposes. In a highly visual world where so much is communicated through image, it is essential that children learn to critically read pictures as well as text. Furthermore, reading pictures forces a different pace, which can help to encourage fast readers to slow down and attend to the details, which they may be inclined to skip past.

The Red Prince

by Charlie Roscoe and illustrated by Tom Clohosy Cole

Week 1

Before sharing the book, give the children a set of cards (see resources). Resources include weblinks to the author and illustrator’s websites, related background material or film clips of authors reading a section of the book or being interviewed about the title. In addition, graphics are supplied to plot ideas, explore vocabulary, character and theme, reader theatre scripts, photographs.

The Blue PrinceThe Black Prince
The Red PrinceThe White Prince
The Green PrinceThe Gold Prince

In pairs discuss which qualities you would expect each prince to have.

Briefly share ideas and make the point that writers carefully select words, even something as simple as a colour choice is important.

Introduce the book by showing the front cover.

  •       What do you think this prince is doing?
  •       What do you notice about the prince’s body language?

Draw attention to the prince looking over his shoulder, striding forward with arms huddled about his body.

Draw attention to scale

  • Why is he shown so small on the front cover?
  • What do you think the dog is doing?

Before next week read up to ‘There he saw something he couldn’t believe’. You may like to use paperclips to mark the stopping point.

Week 2

Reread up to ‘There he saw something he couldn’t believe’.

Using their notebooks, ask the children to independently answer the following questions:

  • Did you find anything interesting or puzzling?
  • Did the story remind you of anything you have read or seen?
  • Do you have any questions?

Use these notes as a basis for an initial discussion.

The Red Prince

Visual literacy Draw attention to the contrast between light and dark in the book. In pairs, ask the children to share ideas about the different ways in which light is used (e.g. the prince holds the candle light even when everything around him is dark; the wise young girl sits by a blazing fire which gives off light and warmth). Make the point that the contrasts of light and dark are often used in books and in films.

Point of view Look at the double page spread ‘They took him far away’. Imagine a camera taking a photo of this scene

  • Where is the person taking the picture standing?
  • How are feelings created by this picture?
  • How does the image of the lorry climbing the mountain add to that feeling?

Look at where the fortress is positioned in the very top right hand corner.

●       Would you get a different feeling if it had been shown half way down the page with a lot more sky above?

Now look at the facing page.

The Red Prince
  • Where is the camera now?
  • How does this ‘eye in the sky’ technique affect the mood of the picture?
  • Can you find another image that uses the ‘eye in the sky’ point of view (without reading past the stopping point).

Looking closely The people of Avala help the Red Prince in lots of different ways.

●       How many different ways can you find?

Week 3

Discussing big ideas: which of these statements do you think best matches the ideas in this book? Briefly explain what each statement means. Working in pairs, ask the children to decide which statement they think is most relevant to the story. Ask them to find evidence to support their chosen statement.

There’s safety in numbers
Kindness is often repaid with kindness
While the cat’s away, the mice will play
You can’t win a war, unless you win the hearts and minds of the people
The only thing we have to fear is fear itself

Week 4

The final session provides time to reflect on themes, return to early predictions or initial questions and to introduce or compare with other titles.

Comparing books Tom Clohosy Cole has written and illustrated another book called Wall. If you have a copy in school, read it and compare the two stories. Are there any similarities?

One of the objectives of Reading Gladiators™ is to widen children’s reading repertoires. Each set of notes ends with an ‘If you liked this book you might enjoy’ these titles section. In the case of The Red Prince we would highlight other picturebooks aimed at older readers and also point them in the direction of other books illustrated by Tom Clohosy Cole.

Share and/or introduce any of these titles if you have them in school. This can comprise reading the blurbs, opening pages or suggesting children seek them at their local library.

  • Nuts in Space by Elys Dolan – more great storytelling using words and pictures
  • Varmints by Helen Ward – another picture book that has themes of joy, destruction, despair hope
  • Destination Space – a non-fiction book about astrophysics, illustrated by Tom Clohosy Cole

Reading Gladiators display

Extension tasks are designed to place Reading Gladiators™ in the heart of your whole school reading culture. Used to full effect the resource can influence wider reading and support reading for pleasure across the whole school. Displays, assembly presentations and poetry raiders are just some of the examples of extension activities in which the Reading Gladiators can share the new books with other children.

The online community on the Reading Gladiators™ website is a space to celebrate activity from Reading Gladiator groups across the country. Group leaders can post updates about what their groups are doing, with the opportunity to win books for their children.

The comprehensive notes and resources make Reading Gladiators™ the ideal vehicle for ‘catch up’ reading, whilst still supporting Reading for Pleasure by introducing children to a wide range of new titles and authors in a relaxed atmosphere with enjoyable (but optional challenges).